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Aurora Christian's Brandon Mays stretches a 16-yard run into the endzone to put the Eagles on the board 7-12 in the second quarter during their state championship game against Tolono Unity at University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Friday,
America’s founding fathers didn’t invent football, but if they had, Thomas Jefferson might have written, “We hold this truth to be self evident: win time of possession, coach, and it’s likely you’ll win the game.”
Don Beebe would beg to disagree.
“Time of possession is one of the most overrated stats, and here’s why,” the Aurora Christian coach said Saturday after his team rallied from a 12-0 deficit to Tolono Unity with 42 unanswered points to successfully defend their IHSA Class 3A State title in a game they lost the possession battle, 32:12 to 15:48.
“Back in the day, when everybody was running to get in position to throw on third down, time of possession was a big factor. Now that you’re in spread (offenses) and can score quick, time of possession means nothing. It really doesn’t.”
With a howling wind out of the north causing havoc on his team’s vaunted passing game, Beebe’s Eagles got off to a shaky start at Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus.
Unity took advantage of an early turnover on a Joel Bouagnon fumble for a 25-yard drive for the opening score and then used 14 plays to eat up six minutes and 53 seconds in a 14-play scoring drive. It gave the Rockets a 12-0 lead 11 minutes and five seconds into the game.
ACS answered early in the second quarter on a 16-yard scoring run by Brandon Mayes that was set up by his 70-yard kickoff return.
The Eagles got the ball back with 1:40 remaining in the half. Thirty-six seconds and 64 yards later, quarterback Ryan McQuade connected with Cory Windle on a 28-yard touchdown pass that sent the Eagles to the lockerroom, leading 14-12.
“We had some problems passing, but their guys were so focused on stopping Chad (Beebe) I was open on that one over the top,” said Windle.
“I called a timeout right before that [scoring] play and I was chewing butt as much as I’ve chewed all year,” said Don Beebe. “Guys weren’t blocking the right guy. We were getting sacked and weren’t picking up blitzes. I had to reel ‘em in. They were like in Disneyland.”
Time of possession at the break was 15:55 to 8:05 for Unity but their players looked beat as they left the field. They had been there before, blowing a 14-0 lead in last year’s 50-26 semifinal loss to the Eagles, who exploded for 21 points in a 52-second span.
It took awhile this time, but it happened again.
After a scoreless third quarter, where each team turned the ball over twice on downs, the Eagles found themselves in fantasyland.
Unity kicker Cody Payne’s 28-yard field goal attempt with the wind at his back clanged off the left upright with 8:36 remaining and the rest of the quarter belonged to Aurora Christian.
The highlights included a 60-yard scoring burst by Bouagnon, a Noah Roberts interception, a 75-yard Mayes interception return for a score and a fumble recovery by Ryan Suttle that led to a 34-yard Legend Smith scoring run.
“It was ugly in the first half,” Beebe said, but it was picture perfect in the second.
“Against Winnebago, earlier in the playoffs, we were down something like that in time of possession but we came back to win.”
In some games the quick-hitting spread may be the difference, but in this one, Beebe and Co. turned to their power running game in the second half, too. Playmakers, it seems, are equally important, and Beebe has a bunch.